The Sandy River trail connects two popular recreational spots on the west side of Mount Hood: Riley Horse Camp and the Ramona Falls trailhead. The trail cuts through a forest that has unique soil due to a volcanic eruption on Hood just prior to Lewis and Clark’s passage nearby on the Columbia River. People scavenge for mushroom, camp, ride horses, and hike as much as they like in this section of the Mount Hood National Forest. Solitude is a rare quality here. Yet I find that it is possible with a little off trail travel in the relatively flat environment below the Ramona Falls trailhead.
After dealing with a pseudo retirement party Friday night, we spent Saturday doing paperwork and visiting a friend who is fighting cancer with a powerful will. I have no doubt she will win. Afterward, a serene trip to the woods was in order. The Sandy River Trail cuts across the main access road at one point, and we parked nearby. The walking is casual, the ash and mudflow soil apparent at various points where it is very soft and gets rutted easily in heavy rains.
Our destination was a stretch of open riverbed not far from the trail. Multiple channels cut through rocks and sand, the water too high for us to channel hop. There were glimmers of sun as we enjoyed the noisy company of the Sandy River and a view of the lower stretches of Mount Hood. We threw sticks for Jackie, soaked in the natural environment, and came away feeling rejuvenated.
Bigger trips are soon to come with summer weather. This was a nice stopgap stroll. For now, back to the city, work, and life.
Do you enjoy crowds on your hiking trails? You know, the trails that make the travel section of the paper, occasional blurbs in national magazines, and websites of know-it-all hikers. Seriously, certain areas are more popular than others, often with good reason, but there’s little worse than wanting to escape your work life and find the parking area, trail, or campsites crowded with others who had similar ideas. The quality of your wilderness experience is necessarily affected. Luckily, there are a few ways to avoid such experiences.
Location, location, location. If a trail is written up repeatedly, count on it to be crowded on weekends or during vacation times. Beautiful lakes or dramatic mountain views? Yep, assume that if you know about the spot, it will be busy. Try seeking similar but lesser known destinations further from the nearest metropolitan area. That might mean avoiding Mount Hood, a major hiking destination. It might simply mean being more specific with trail choices on Mount Hood. In other words, if you expect Mount Hood to be busy during, try the Coast Range. If, however, you are set on Mount Hood, try a trail off the beaten path. There is bound to be beauty along the way that just might surprise you, whether in a dramatic river crossing, wildlife, or a clifftop view.
Timing is crucial for solitude. For instance, if you are planning an overnighter far in advance, consider seasonal fluctuations in crowds and weather. While an easily accessible lake might have few hikers and fisherfolk in April, a Memorial Day weekend visit might find the place overrun. Other holidays are traditionally big for outdoor adventures too, so beware. Student vacations can affect crowds as well. In Oregon, that’s usually December and March, although Thanksgiving now often turns into a week thanks to conferences and budget cuts. The best option may be to take off time during the week, even if it’s only to add one day to the weekend. The difference between a Sunday and a Monday can be stark.
If the ideas above aren’t enough to help you find solitude, you might go off trail. It’s a sure way to beat the crowds and improve your navigation skills. Yes, there are risks, and you do need to be prepared. I didn’t start going off trail until I had been hiking for many years. Now it is a way to keep things fresh in the same areas. I have been able to find a number of places where I can safely hike off trail, minimally affecting the landscape, and solitude is all but ensured.
If you still find things too hectic on your hikes, I have one word for you. Alaska.